Putting the “S” into ESG and the Importance of Community

Thoughts on integrating ESG into your organisation’s day-to-day from GemCap UK CEO Stuart Alexander, and how to make it work for you and your team.

As we all know, ESG has become the hottest three-letter acronym since the USA was scripted. Everywhere you look, the ESG letters hang in the air or on a screen reminding you that ESG should be at the heart of everything you do from the moment you wake up to when you switch off the bedside light. Lots of companies are scrambling over each other to demonstrate their ESG credentials and many others are employing huge numbers of “experts” in ensuring they meet the requirements to be fully ESG engaged.

Many companies, including GemCap, put a lot of effort into ensuring we meet the exacting high standards set by bodies such as the PRI, of which we are members. However, ticking boxes is one thing; fully embodying them and weaving them into the very fabric of the company and the lives of the people within and around is another thing all together. Companies cannot impose ESG on their staff and neither can companies just pay lip service to the requirements. In any situation, there will be people who fully get it and want to play their part because it resonates with them, and equally there will be those who feel it is not something that has any bearing on themselves. Between those groups are the ones who do their bit as and when it fits their own beliefs or lifestyles. This happens in all aspects of life, so it should not be a shock to employers who struggle to understand why people don’t “get on board”!

An area where this is particularly acute – and one that many firms don’t always consider – is the “S” or social aspect of ESG. Many believe that the reason is because it is so difficult to measure. So how can a company get the “S” into their framework in a way that means something and adds value in the way the business is run, and is measurable? A social “score” when measured will rise if a company is well integrated with its local community and therefore has a ‘social licence’ to operate with consent. In short get involved with the community.

Getting involved with the community can take many forms: working for a local charity, working in their shop, being a charity trustee or NED, supporting community projects, being part of a school or community group that helps people or the environment. At GemCap we encourage our colleagues to get involved at all sorts of levels. We sponsor one of the junior teams at a local football club and we give two work days a year per colleague for staff to get involved in whatever they want to do.

Last week I did my own wee bit by handing over 1000 CDs and 100 DVDs to the local hospice shop. The hospice was where my brother spent the last few days of his life and the monies raised by selling those CDs will help in some part in thanking them for the care that they gave him. Funnily enough, 50% of those CDs and all the DVDs were his, so it was nice for him to give back. However, I was quick to point out to the hospice that the dodgy musical taste wasn’t mine! In addition, I chair various groups locally that are either involved in community events such as the Village Summer Fair – but my favourite is the biodiversity group that I chair. We have planted over 1000 trees so far this year, conducted three major litter picks, built 25 hedgehog hotels, built a hedgehog highway around the village, and planted hundreds of wildflowers as well as created a Community Action Day when locals repaired benches, dug ditches out, put bark-chippings down on paths and many other community minded projects.

However, for the “S” to be part of your ESG, I would argue that you don’t need to or shouldn’t have to measure the consequences or the actions that you are doing. It is not a competition, after all, but rather a sense that we can all play our part in helping locally. Don’t worry if you only do a few bits and bobs and that your company is not out litter picking, running marathons or piling money into the local football team every five minutes, as it must be what is right for you and your colleagues. Organised events are a great team building exercise but for some it is their idea of hell. So be more individual and let people make their own decisions so that they can enjoy the experience and be part of the decision-making process. They are after all a part of their own community. Perhaps a measure of the “S” is success and whether people feel that something has been successful for them, for if they are happy then that is a success in my book.

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